Rock ‘n’ roll is a brazen enterprise. Ever since Little Richard those who provoke attention seem to get it. Would we have it any other way? After all, the music blasted out of a repressed post-war America with its Willie out and a gap-toothed grin on its mug. Still, the music has always allowed room for those talented individuals who weren’t quite so flamboyant, who perhaps had a measure of reserve superficially uncharacteristic of the music.
Take Bob Andrews - he is a more modest sort. In his storied if under-sung past, Andrews has contributed to some wonderful bands and recordings, chiefly as keyboardist for Brinsley Schwarz and Graham Parker and the Rumour. For the past twenty years he’s been living in New Orleans. Playing local clubs, marinating in the sounds he loves, living life.
Shotgun, Andrews’ new album, demonstrates that restraint has its place, even in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. And, for that matter, restraint and the ribald needn’t be strangers. Andrews’s smart, idiomatic tunes accompany the words of lyricist Robin Hunn. She knows her partner’s needs well, delivering smart, blues-drenched lyrics that shift sexual personae and demonstrate a wide range of emotion, from the violated to the volatile, from the plaintive to the passionate. Their collaboration extends beyond Hunn providing words to Andrews’ music. The pair worked together envisioning these songs, discussing feel, context, and approach. It’s a partnership that works.
Shotgun is a bracing roots-rock recital that crackles with energy. It brims with Andrews’ astute musicianship and makes virtue of his vocal modesty. Restraint, combined with musicality, can be quite insinuating. Occasionally, with these performances I’ll strain to hear the ghosts of more robust rhythm and blues archetypes. Frankly, the title track might sound, well, dirtier if his pal Graham Parker had sung it; it has a bit of that “Hotel Chambermaid” salaciousness. But more often than not Andrews’ simmering, slyly expressive singing is unerringly right for these performances. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on “I Knew It Was Wrong but I Did It Anyway.” Sung in the overtly emotive style of a Percy Sledge acolyte it would lose its shamed, but defiant steel. Here, Andrews combines the rock-ribbed reserve of Richard Thompson (“For Shame of Doing Wrong”) with the determined, dogged drawl of Arthur Alexander. On “Doghouse” there’s a bruised, conversational dignity to Andrews’ delivery that suggests the songs of Dan Penn, and Andrews plays a beautiful solo that shows his debt to Garth Hudson.